GOP still lacks formidable candidate

February 23, 2012


— The Midwest begins on the western slopes of the Allegheny Mountains, around Rick Santorum’s Pittsburgh, birthplace of the Ohio River, the original highway into the Midwest. Pittsburgh fueled the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, an early eruption of Western resentment of the overbearing East, which taxed the whiskey that Westerners made from their grain. Santorum the Midwesterner, after victories in Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, is waging more of his political capital on the region.

Rather than wait for Super Tuesday’s (March 6) congenial calendar featuring five culturally conservative states (Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Idaho), he is contesting Michigan, which votes Tuesday, and Ohio. But instead of keeping his Rust Belt focus on his blue-collar roots and economic program for reviving manufacturing, he has opened multiple fronts in the culture wars.

By doing so — questioning much prenatal testing, disdaining Barack Obama’s environmentalism as “phony theology,” calling involvement of even state governments in public education “anachronistic,” reiterating that abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape and incest, explaining the proper purpose of sex (procreation) — Santorum has eclipsed Newt Gingrich, his rival for the support of social conservatives. But in doing so Santorum has made his Catholicism more central and problematic in this nomination contest than Mitt Romney’s Mormonism has been.

The problem is not that the phenomena that trouble Santorum are unserious. The use of prenatal testing for search-and-destroy missions against Down syndrome and other handicapped babies is barbaric. Obama’s stealthy pursuit of a national curriculum for grades K through 12 is ill-advised and illegal. And no domestic problem — not even the unsustainable entitlement state — is more urgent and intractable than that of family disintegration.

The entitlement state can be reformed by various known — if currently politically impossible — policy choices. But no one really knows the causes of family disintegration, so it is unclear whether those causes can be combated by government measures.    

We do know the social pathologies flowing from the fact that now more than 50 percent of all babies born to women under age 30 are born to unmarried mothers. These pathologies, related to a constantly renewed cohort of adolescent males without fathers at home, include disorderly neighborhoods, schools that cannot teach, mass incarceration and the intergenerational transmission of poverty. We do not know how to address this with government policies, even though the nation has worried about it for almost 50 years.

In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then in President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, published his report on the black family’s “crisis,” which was that 24 percent of black children were then born to unmarried women. Today, 73 percent are. Forty-one percent of all children are now born to unmarried women.    

Moynihan, a social scientist in politics, proposed various family policies, but also noted this: When the medieval invention of distilling was combined with Britain’s 18th-century surplus of grain, the result was cheap gin — and appalling pockets of social regression. The most effective response to which was not this or that government policy, it was John Wesley — Methodism. Which brings us back to Santorum.

He is an engagingly happy warrior, except when he is not. Then he is an angry prophet of a dystopian future in which, he has warned, people will be “holed up in their homes afraid to go outside at night.” He has the right forebodings but may have the wrong profession. Presidential candidates do not thrive as apostles of social regeneration; they are expected to be as sunny as Ronald Reagan was as he assured voters that they were as virtuous as their government was tedious.  

Today’s Republican contest has become a binary choice between two similarly miscast candidates. Romney cannot convince voters he understands the difference between business and politics, between being a CEO and the president. To bring economic rationality to an underperforming economic entity requires understanding a market segment. To bring confidence to a discouraged nation requires celebrating its history and sketching an inspiring destiny this history has presaged.

Romney is right about the futility of many current policies, but being offended by irrationality is insufficient. Santorum is right to be alarmed by many cultural trends, but implies that religion must be the nexus between politics and cultural reform. Romney is not attracting people who want rationality leavened by romance. Santorum is repelling people who want politics unmediated by theology. Neither Romney nor Santorum looks like a formidable candidate for November.  

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.


FalseHopeNoChange 6 years ago

They are not "Militant Community Organizers" enough like The Obama is. GOP needs somebody with a "one fist" in the air power candidate.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

It's surprising that Will would have written this column before last night's debate. Romney did an excellent job, and Santorum's tendency to be what Will calls "an engagingly happy warrior, except when he is not" was on full display.

The Michigan primary has gone from being a media-driven Santorum upset to a dead heat, with still plenty of time left for Santorum's obsession with social issues to convince Michigan Republicans that he is seriously outside of the mainstream except in the most conservative religious circles.

Romney will easily win Arizona, where the debate was held. He is the only Republican capable of winning the White House in 2012, and deserves the Party's nomination.

cato_the_elder 6 years ago

Bozo, you wouldn't have posted this stupid attempt at humor if you and all of your ilk, including the Bamster himself, weren't scared to death of Romney as the Republican nominee this fall.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

He's a vacuous shill for Wall Street. Of course I'm scared that he might become president. (at least the current shill has to occasionally pretend to care about the 99%)

cato_the_elder 5 years, 12 months ago

Bozo, who in your mind isn't a "shill for Wall Street?" Ralph Nader?

cato_the_elder 5 years, 12 months ago

Except himself perhaps? If you voted for him in 2000, you helped to elect George W. Bush.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years ago

"another GOP trainwreck in the works, ala 2008"

Have you already forgotten about 2004? And 2000, 1996, 1992, 1988, 1984, 1980, 1976, 1972.......?

Mike Ford 6 years ago

no good candidate? really.... I knew this a while ago....

jafs 6 years ago

That's funny.

I haven't really heard him speak before - he's pretty bad at it, isn't he?

"Long may they rule the world" tag line at the end caught my attention.

In what universe do American cars currently "rule the world"?

jafs 6 years ago

So does that qualify us as "ruling the world"?

Richard Payton 6 years ago

Why doesn't the dow hitting the 13,000 mark feel that good. Why does gas continue to rise? Will Obama drop a bomb in October as Michael Savage suggest?

tolawdjk 6 years ago

Because the Dow is about as reality based as Seseme Street. Sure there are people walking and talking and interacting, but there are also giant fuzzy elephants that only they can see and they operate under the belief that the good times are only a song and dance away, brought to you by the letter R and the number several trillion.

Gas continues to rise because US politics and policy has absolutely zero bearing on oil supply or oil demand anymore. Supply is driven by multiple crazy people who hate everyone else and demand is driven billions of people half a world away. A republican corporate theology could take over all three branches of government, put an oil well on every acre in the us and a refinery on every corner and gas prices might drop 50 cents. Supply and demand of a global commodity is not a political function.

And Michael Savage is a moron, even amongst conservative circles.

Though I am sure you are aware of all of this.

tolawdjk 6 years ago

"The entitlement state can be reformed by various known — if currently politically impossible — policy choices. But no one really knows the causes of family disintegration, so it is unclear whether those causes can be combated by government measures. "

These two sentences of Will's show the problem with this GOP field and the modern republican party in general.

The platform belief that govt entitlement is bad and govt involvement in people's lives is evil and needs to change, but no one has the will to do it, coupled with the deep set belief that while they don't know how, govt should try to fix and be involved with family level decisions.

The GOP is suffering from the same problem they claim the OWS crowd has. They have a an active and passionate base (proof, the 2010 election) but when they try to figure out what it is they are trying to say, or who will be thier flag bearer, we get stuck with Santorum, who is patently unelectable in a general election or Romney who is obviously a tool pulled by puppet masters behind the scene.

Santorum is obviously his own man, with deep set personal beliefs, and I respect him for having those and sticking to them. With the pull of easy money, that is no small feat to maintain. However, I don't agree with those beliefs, and I definately don't trust a man driven by those beliefs to be President.

Romeny is Bushlite/Obamalite. It's not so obvious as Bush, but you can definately see it there. He's beholden to the money behind the Super PAC. You have to be a fool to think that he would not govern with the idea of doing what is best for the country second and what is best for his masters first.

Gingrinch is...well...Gingrinch and an administration run by an "outsider" that spent his entire adult career inside the beltway either in the House or influencing those in the House is not really "outside" anything. The only reason he is "outside" anything is because they threw him out. He would still be a Congressman if he hadn't screwed up and Hubris is the only thing keeping him in today.

I miss Huntsman.

Terry Sexton 6 years ago

Well stated. Thank you, t! Your assessments cut to it quite precisely & are very well conveyed.

tolawdjk 6 years ago

If they are smart, they should be questioning moving out of Florida. A warm climate, a large population base in an oil production district where refining capacity is decreasing (Valero I think it was shut down their Puerto Rico refinery), and an increasing global demand have forced local commodity prices to be on the cutting edge of increases.

Denver, however, has access to abundent Bakken sources, a moderate climate that does not require early adoption of summer blend fuels, a refining district with actually expanding capacity.

Oh wait, you wanted them to somehow correlate $5 gas to the black man in the white house. Silly me using a reasoned approach to your question.

yourworstnightmare 6 years ago

Popcorn, anyone?

A philandering, befuddled, right wing egomaniac.

A 12th century catholic paladin (with the matching social views) crusading against sex.

A kook "libertarian" pro-lifer who has dabbled in racism and xenophobia.

A baseless chameleon who will take whatever position on an issue that the situation requires.

Oh, oh, oh, good fun this is!

Paul Decelles 6 years ago

Not good fun. It is sad for our democracy when a major party can't put up viable candidates.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Moderate/liberal republicans and democrats should migrate to the Green Party and win

Now we're talking smart economics and politics.....

A return to the USA is possible - A new party is necessary!


Armstrong 6 years ago

$5.00 + per gallon gas on the way, bad economy no direction or leaderhip, high unemployment. There is a recipe for another 4 years. I believe that's called FalseHopeNoChange.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

Tonight on the news it was revealed that on every tank of has approximately $14.75 goes to the Wall Street investors creating the high dollar gas. The more that is burned the more the speculators make.....

Boycott gasoline at every opportunity by reducing gasoline use.....

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